The government’s market liberalisation win on media reform should not be underestimated. Despite the $60 million of taxpayer funds doled out to private media organisations, this is a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, much more reform is needed to open up Australia’s media landscape.
Last week the government abolished the antiquated 75 per cent reach rule, which limits the audience reach in Australia. Most media networks break this rule anyway through their online streaming services.
They have also abolished the two-out-of-three rule, which prevents a media organisation from owning local newspapers, television stations and radio stations in a single city.
Both rules came into force in 1987, when the internet did not exist. Reforming these rules is a significant achievement highlighting that market liberalisation can still win support if approached and argued effectively.
The laws mean that media companies will be able to configure themselves as they wish, and enable them to compete with the likes of Google and Facebook. Arguments about diversity of media voices from the left do not hold true, and were transparently pointed against one particular media organisation, which you are currently reading.
The Australian media market has never been as diverse as it is today, Facebook and Google have given consumers a digestible way to consume news that they agree with. This trend should not be rejected, it simply represents consumer preferences.
For this reason, opponents in Labor and the Greens seemed to be interested in issues other than the actual reform.
Based on recent job cuts at Fairfax, Senators Sam Dastyari and Nick Xenophon and the Greens kick started a Senate Inquiry into the “future of public interest journalism”. What this inquiry showed was that “public interest” means a particular set of policies and ideas, with politicians deeming what those things are.
They wanted a scheme whereby multinational media behemoths like the New York Times, Buzzfeed and the Guardian would be rewarded with wads of taxpayers’ money to compete with Google and Facebook.
It is gobsmacking hypocrisy that you have the likes of Senator Dastyari and the Greens, strong critics of the operations of multinational businesses in Australia, advocating for taxpayer money to be directed to multinationals.
At the same time you had the management of Guardian Australia, which is funded by a large multinational trust, trying to broker deals with Nick Xenophon for wads of cash, outside the agreement of the entire media industry.
It is no wonder these media outlets advocate for endless subsidies to the renewable energy industry. It is consistent with their belief system that unprofitable businesses should be bailed out by the state.
The only way to truly achieve public interest is to let consumers decide with their feet. Funding of private media by the state is a regressive move that should be rejected by both sides of politics. The government should now look to the next round of reforms, such as abolishing the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and liberalising the spectrum management regime.
Aside from being inappropriate, the idea that the state should oversee the regulation of broadcasting content is outdated.
Australia’s media landscape has dramatically changed since past media laws were established.
With the expansion of various communication platforms, audiences are free to consume opinions that both oppose and affirm their views, deciding for themselves how they wish to be informed.
The ACMA’s role in ensuring impartiality, balance, and minimum Australian content requirements has been made redundant through technological change. This is why celebrity proponents of campaigns like Make it Australian, which advocates forcing local content rules onto new platforms like Netflix, are misguided.
The ACMA also allocates spectrum, which the Centre for International Economics estimated that spectrum adds $177 billion in value to Australia.
Rather than direct regulation by the ACMA, media organisations and users should decide how spectrum is allocated, adjudicate the rules over its use, figure out pricing mechanisms, and sort out their own disputes.
This is consistent with recommendations from the 2015 Spectrum Review which the government has agreed to adopt.
Once the ACMA is removed from regulating speech and allocating spectrum, the remaining role for government would be to ensure a certain amount of spectrum is available for military, emergency services, and law enforcement uses.
The Government should pat itself on the back for an important first step, and go even further in creating a competitive media industry by abolishing ACMA, liberalising spectrum and curbing the behemoth that is the ABC.
(Image: The Daily Telegraph 2017, Mick Tsikas and Kym Smith)